|The Wolverines celebrated a victory for the first time in a long time.
Photo by Andrew Stein
By Adam Turer
This was an eventful and emotional week in Division III.
It started with a tragedy at Wooster, when offensive lineman Clayton Geib passed away following the Scots’ game on Sept. 16. That news left everyone heartbroken.
Then, we were shocked by the felony charges leveled against five Wheaton players for allegedly hazing two former teammates in 2016. That news left many enraged at the allegations and the timing of the charges.
The good news was the historic attendance at Target Field to see St. Thomas hold off rival St. John’s, 20-17. The event left Division III players, coaches, and fans feeling proud.
Saturday night was cathartic for Grove City, which snapped a 33-game losing streak.
The Scots took the field against DePauw with just 10 men on the field. They took the snap, then took a knee. It was a symbolic gesture in honor of their brother, gone too soon. The Tigers allowed their opponents to take the untimed down. Tigers players then reached across the line of scrimmage to provide comfort and show their solidarity with their NCAC foes.
I’ve cried every single time I’ve watched this.
The Scots fell to the Tigers, 51-24, but this game was about much more than the final score. It was about getting back on the field, together. Playing football was the best way they could think of to honor Geib.
"The toughest part is someone they really care about is no longer with us for some unexplained circumstances. Wrapping your mind around that with love and affection you have for a teammate is very difficult," said Scots coach Frank Colaprete. "We went down and scored on a really good team, but we were flat. They played hard and gave their best efforts. But it felt like we were emotionally spent."
The Wooster community has received an outpouring of support from throughout Division III this week. It wasn't just football programs that reached out, said Colaprete. He appreciated the respect shown by DePauw's players, coaches, and fans on Saturday.
"I do know that there’s a great respect for each other in this conference and in Division III and it was shown by DePauw," said Colaprete. "The support from Division III all over the country, not just from football, has been outstanding."
The Scots host Wabash this week as they try to return to some semblance of normalcy. This past week, it was impossible to focus on football. Now, the team must try to rally from the shock and pain of losing a teammate so unexpectedly.
"This week, I’ll do what I can to make sure the focus is just school and football," said Colaprete. "It’s not about moving on, but it’s about moving forward."
On the other end of the emotional spectrum was the relief felt at Grove City.
The Wolverines last won a football game on November 16, 2013. Andrew DiDonato was the offensive coordinator at his high school alma mater, South Fayette, at the time. Nearly four years later, he is in his second season as head coach of his collegiate alma mater.
He set records during his four seasons as a starting quarterback, but no win as a player was as sweet as his first victory as head coach. It took him 14 games to get there, and he did it with a roster full of players who did not know the feeling of a college football victory.
“I am very blessed to be a part of some special victories. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such elation from a group of young men, student body, and administration. Just sheer elation,” said DiDonato. “No words can describe the looks I saw in their eyes. I can truly say to have the opportunity to serve a group of young men and see them get to enjoy this moment, no victory can compare to the blessed experience that we got to share together tonight.”
The Wolverines came close several times last year, losing four games by single digits. They didn’t come close in their first three tries this season, but broke through on Saturday against St. Vincent. Wesley Schools rushed for three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter as the Wolverines came from behind for the 24-14 win. The sophomore carried 35 times for 177 yards in the win.
“This is a very exciting moment for our program. My dream was to come back to this place I love and have an opportunity to serve and lead,” said DiDonato. “I was blessed to play for great people and be around great people here. Our vision tonight was to win a football game, but the process to get there is difficult, especially to get that first one.”
The victory was made even sweeter by the circumstances. The Wolverines wore all white uniforms at home for the first time in decades. The game was played in their home stadium, under the lights, with a loud student section celebrating a whiteout. The students chanted the team’s motto, “Brick by brick,” throughout the game. Then, they rushed the field and celebrated with their classmates.
“Our message all offseason was to learn for four quarters to do our job, trust our reads so we can play fast, and give amazing effort,” said DiDonato. “This was our best execution in a second half and fourth quarter we’ve had since I’ve been here. I saw our young men, instead of getting caught up in the moment, just focused on the process of doing their job on each play.”
There are still plenty of bricks to lay. The next step is winning consecutive games. For now, the Wolverines can enjoy seeing a W on their record for the first time in years.
Questions and answers
Is it too early to for conference races to have some clarity?
No. Between Mount Union’s decisive victory over Baldwin Wallace and Heidelberg’s dominance of John Carroll, it appears that the Purple Raiders are once again in command in the OAC. The Student Princes will have an opportunity to shake things up when they host Mount Union on Oct. 7. As we learned last year, it only takes one game to upend the conference standings.
One conference had an early-season game on Saturday that felt decisive: Berry is in the driver’s seat in the SAA after manhandling Centre. The Vikings forced four turnovers and allowed just 282 yards of offense in a 28-14 win. Mamadou Soumahoro had two sacks and forced a fumble. There’s still plenty of football to play this year, but the Vikings control their path to the postseason.
Oh, and there was a little game in Minnesota played on Saturday. St. Thomas took control of the MIAC by holding St. John’s to 151 yards of offense, including just one rushing yard, and zero third down conversions in a 20-17 victory. The Tommies gained the upper hand in the MIAC before a record crowd of 37,355.
Who else snapped bad streaks on Saturday?
Wilmington also broke some long skids, winning its first OAC game since 2012 and securing a multiple-win season for the first time since 2008. The Quakers held off Capital, 37-30, in overtime on Saturday night.
Buffalo State secured a 3-0 start for the first time since 1999. After falling behind 14-0 early, the Bengals rallied for a 33-21 win over RPI. The defense forced four turnovers. Bart Mazzara recovered a fumble and had an interception for the Bengals.
Who had the wildest comeback?
Trinity (Texas) trailed Chapman 35-21 entering the fourth quarter. The Tigers scored a touchdown, recovered a fumble, then scored another touchdown to tie the game. Jay Foster scored both fourth quarter touchdowns. Chapman bounced back and drove to the Trinity 10-yard-line with a chance to win. Chris Stewart blocked Lucas Alfonso's field goal attempt, forcing overtime. The Panthers again were in position to win after Colby Doyal's 43-yard attempt missed wide on the Tigers' opening overtime possession. Then, the Tigers capped the crazy comeback with a walkoff sack and fumble recovery. Jacob Blankenship sacked Ricky Bautista on the Panthers' first snap. Mitchell Globe scooped up the football and raced 63 yards to glory.
Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.
Today-- new Top 25 poll released, plus a bonus edition of the Around the Nation podcast. I joined Pat Coleman to discuss the spectacle that was Tommie-Johnnie 2017.
Monday--Around the Nation podcast with Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan. Also, Play of the Week. Submit nominations today if you haven't already.
Tuesday/Wednesday--Around the Region columns.
Thursday--Around the Nation column.
Saturday--You know what Saturdays are for.
We've got great content coming at you all week, every week. Follow along and get to know D-III football beyond just your favorite team.
If you have ideas for an upcoming column or just want to talk some D-III football, get at me at @adamturer on Twitter or email@example.com.